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Australia hold off South Africa for famous win in The Rugby Championship U20

By Ned Lester
Angus Staniforth of Australia. Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images

A 43-20 win by New Zealand in round two’s opening game against Argentina handed South Africa a clear benchmark against an Australian team eager to improve after a hefty round one loss.

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It was the tightest of tussles and remained within one score until the final 10 minutes when Australia finally managed to pull away to a 10-point lead, which was slashed but ultimately never overcome despite South Africa’s desperation in the dying minutes.

Play was restrained early, but it remained mostly in South Africa’s half with the wind behind a confident Australian team.

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15 minutes had been played and despite Australia’s ambitious attack proving promising, South Africa’s defence had remained composed. Australia were guilty of relieving pressure with handling errors while South Africa claimed steals at the lineout and breakdown.

In the 20th minute, South African prop Mbasa Maqubela was handed a red card for a dangerous contest around the ruck. Australian lock Ollie McCrea was on the receiving end of the contact and was carried from the field.

Being down a man seemed to galvanise the South African team, who finally got the ball in Australia’s half and started to play, battering the defence before consecutive handling errors saw play go the other way. Australia launched a counterattack and the effort following the chip and chase saw them earn a breakdown penalty, making for a penalty attempt.

First five-eighth Cullen Gray knocked the three points over and finally broke the deadlock just shy of the half-hour mark.

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South Africa’s renewed confidence on attack remained though and upon retrieving possession on the restart, their powerful ball runners started making serious inroads and quickly reached the Australian line. Once in front of the chalk, an arm wrestle ensued which the South Africans eventually won, and despite being a man down, they found themselves up 7-3.

After a slow start on the scoreboard, the floodgates had then opened as Australia quickly broke away down the right wing, and despite tripping just shy of the line, were over it just a phase later. The conversion made it 10-7 in the hosts’ favour.

Big plays from both teams kept the game locked in a tug-of-war, with neither side able to claim a consistent upper hand in any particular area. Following the flurry of points, the score remained 10-7 at halftime.

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Strong defence held the South Africans at bay early in the second half, but a poor clearance handed the visitors another crack at attack from 30 metres out. The lineout was stolen by Australia and South Africa were then called to be offside.

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The momentum was in Australia’s favour but the execution was lacking, much like in the first half.

Possession was both wrestled and fumbled back and forth as the game hung in the balance throughout the third quarter. Every aspect of the game was an even contest, reflected by the tight scoreline.

Finally, in the 62nd minute, South African winger Litelihle Bester found the perfect line and hit it with supreme pace, slicing open the Australian defence and scoring under the posts.

The visitors’ lead wouldn’t last long though, as Australia quickly wrestled back possession and managed some lightning-quick ball at the breakdown which set the backline alight before South Africa could set their defence. A wide ball from halfback Hwi Sharples gave his winger some room before the offload to Shane Wilcox saw the fullback run under the posts for his second try of the contest.

The electric fullback was put into space a minute later and ran deep into South Africa’s 22 before a wayward offload saw the opportunity go begging.

Australia however stole the following lineout and after their first go at the try line was ruled a double movement, they came back, reloaded, and went for a rolling maul. After a TMO review, a penalty try was awarded and lock Bathobele Hlekani was handed a yellow card.

A fumble just a minute later saw South Africa centre Jurenzo Julius kick the ball ahead and the foot race was ultimately won by his winger Litelihle Bester, who claimed his second try of the game to cut the lead to five. The conversion was unsuccessful.

A South Africa knock-on in the final minute of the contest meant Australia just needed to win the scrum to win the game, which they did before kicking the ball into the stands. Final score: 24 – 19.

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